‘Back to square one’: what downgrading of Turkey by PACE means for its relations

So, in a move that came as no surprise, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has voted to reopen a monitoring procedure against Turkey.

It means a downgrading of the country’s status, in a way ‘moving it down to the second league’, after 13 years.

(Turkey was ‘lifted away’ from the monitoring procedure 13 years ago and entered the post-monitoring phase. It has now become the first country in respect of which the monitoring procedure was re-opened.)

A most remarkable development in PACE vote was that the Turkish MP’s of the main opposition party, CHP, who had raised constant criticism at home against the ruling AKP, voted together with the latter, for rejection of the downgrading. By doing so, they have sent a message that they are also ‘against’ a legal and political monitoring of the collapse of institutions and breach of human rights.

This schizoid attitude has raised eyebrows in the Socialist groups in Europe, as well as parts of the anti-AKP camp in Turkey.

”CHP could have abstained, and it would have been understandable” told a western diplomat (who wanted to remain anonymous because of his position) to me and went on:

”Its disgraceful act to side with the breachers of basic human rights not only increase doubts among observers about its sincerity, but also all those in democratic members who had been skeptical found a new pretext for their saying: Bonne pour l’Orient.”


Today’s vote, with 113 votes in favor and 45 against, came as a result of international tension, following the introduction of the Emergency Rule after the botched coup, last summer, wide-scale purge and much debated April 16 referendum which critics say brought Turkey into an autocratic rule.

So, if the April 16 referendum marked a full reversal of Turkey from its path to democracy, April 25 vote in PACE underlines that the reform process which was launched 13 years ago with the upgrading of its status within CoE, to pave way for EU membership negotiations, is formally over.

With the escalating deterioration of its relations with the western political and legal system, Turkey is now set on a course on which its crisis will be projected much more powerfully.

Its negotiating partner status to be discussed is next, possibly at the end of this month in Malta, where EU members like Austria, Belgium and Cyprus will demand suspension of the accession process.

Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn yesterday (24 April) urged the member states to reconsider what kind of relationship the EU should have with Turkey, ahead of a foreign ministers meeting in Malta on Friday (28 April).

At best, Turkey’s relations with the EU face a downgrade simply to trade.

Earlier today at PACE, the co-rapporteurs of the monitoring committee had recommended that the assembly “re-open the monitoring procedure in respect of Turkey until its concerns are addressed in a satisfactory manner.”

During the in-depth discussion, some members of the Assembly proposed additions and amendments for the report, but none of them were approved. Hence, the provision on re-opening the monitoring procedure in respect to Turkey remained.

Ingebjørg Godskesen and Marianne Mikko’s report titled The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey called on Ankara to lift its state of emergency and release the many politicians and journalists arrested in the wake of the failed coup in July 2016. The text expressed serious concerns about the constitutional amendments that passed in Turkey’s 16 April referendum.

While the report acknowledges the difficulties posed in the aftermath of the coup attempt and by the ongoing terrorist threats, it also criticises Turkey for “a serious deterioration of the functioning of democratic institutions”.

Since July 15 last year, CoE rapporteurs issued at several warning texts, studies of human rights breaches and collapse of the rule of law.

One report focused sharply on the attacks against the media, while Venice Commission scrutinized the referendum with a caution that it would demolish the remnants of the democratic structures in the country.

For months now, extensions of the Emergency Rule and issuing of decrees has increased the tension, raising concerns within both CoE and the European Parliament. A solid front was established to have the measures lifted, purges stopped and jailed dissidents – especially journalists – released from prison.

Amnesty International said that the Council decision “sends a clear and powerful message that Turkey must end its crackdown on human rights”. The human rights group added that it “has made it clear to the authorities that human rights cannot be trampled underfoot without scrutiny and, ultimately, consequences”.

Yet, it was met with concern that, given Erdoğan’s temperamental outbursts, and measures helped by Emergency Rule, there will be furher consequences in Turkey. Erdoğan had for months expressed desire for reintroducing the death penalty, refusing to release of dissidents – including 13 members of pro-Kurdish HDP party – from prisons, and repeated that it was up to Europe to cut off all ties. ‘We are set to go our way, regardless’ he said.

His outbursts against Germany and Netherlands with remarks as ‘Nazis’ alienated also large bulks of the European political blocs which had remained behind Turkish accession and Turkey as of today seems more lonely and adrift than ever before.

Before the PACE vote, the clash of political cultures and abstinacy of the AKP delegation was apparent.

Until the very last moment the AKP members pushed for amendments to water down the crtitique and have Gulen Movement acknowledged as terrorist organisation. They were rejected. The anger will project even more sharply over the upper echelons of the AKO from now on.

After today’s vote, the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement that it “strongly condemns this unjust decision of PACE taken with political motives in contravention to the established procedures”.

(The ministry is headed by Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu who, ironically, was PACE president between 2010 and 2012.)

The ministry also warned that the decision, which “will serve terror organisations”, “leaves no choice to Turkey but to reconsider its relations with PACE”. Turkey was one of the first countries to join the Council of Europe when it was established in 1949.

Yet there is no reason Ankara will dare go any further to quit CoE.

It is apparent that the ‘tense coexistence’ which defines f ex Azerbaijan’s relations with CoE will be seen as a model. This will be a fact even if Turkey reintroduces capital punishment. There are some members of CoE that have it.

The real issue is, how the vote will reflect on

  • The decision making processes on Turkey’s accession on whether or not it will have to be discontinued now that it has fallen radically behind the Copenhagen Criteria,
  • How the behaviour of the main opposition party, CHP, will be any longer demand any credible stand against the AKP, now that it has voted together with the AKP.

In a nutshell, another tragic day for Turkey, and, without a doubt, deepening crisis.

What fades its democratic dreams is the lack of a comprehesive, credible opposition at the center.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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